Let's be clear about one thing: It's always a bad idea to try to adjust your steering wheel while driving and have the wheel flopping in your hands while you reach under the dash to secure it. But it's far worse if, while you're trying to do that, the wheel comes off. That's just what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into regarding the Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid.
NHTSA has opened a preliminary investigation after three reports of the steering wheel coming off while the drivers were using the tilt/telescoping feature in model-year 2008-13 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid SUVs. Two of the drivers who filed complaints report they were on the move at the time.
One driver from Fair Oaks, Calif., (NHTSA complaints are posted anonymously) wrote in April that they were traveling at high speed in a 2013 Highlander on Interstate 80 near Sacramento, Calif., tried to adjust the wheel and it "came off in my hands." The driver was able to slow down and get off the road(!) without a crash or injury, and got the wheel back on. The complaint says that the dealer quote to repair the wheel and mount is in excess of $2,000.
NHTSA has sent Toyota a letter notifying the company that it's opened a preliminary probe of the "upper steering-column separation" complaints and asking for any information Toyota has on the potential defect, and for relevant records and field reports by July 6. A preliminary investigation aims to "assess the scope, frequency and safety consequences of the alleged defect." It can lead to a more intensive analysis; the process may or may not result in a recall if a defect is identified.
But to be safe, you don't have to wait for the results. If you have a Highlander or Highlander Hybrid from these years — or any vehicle with a tilt/telescoping feature — just do the right thing and make adjustments before you're on the move.
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